“I’m not a feminist, but…”
I hear this phrase a lot, and I suppose that at one point in time I was guilty of using it too. However, just as I grew out of my Hot Topic shopping habits and eventually realized that my seventh grade obsession with wearing cat ears to school was embarrassing, I have outgrown my previously immature attitudes. What my aversion was, and what others’ continue to be, is a misconstrued vision of what a feminist is. If the thought that a feminist is a dirty hippie who burns her bras and never washes her hair, who scorns men every chance she can, and devotes her free time demonstrating at pro-choice rallies, then believe me, I am no feminist. However, if these strange social conventions are stripped from the word, and for example, the world sees feminism as the Oxford English Dictionary defines it, “advocacy of the rights of women (based on the theory of equality of the sexes),” then maybe more people would understand that they are in fact feminists.
Think of it this way: if I were to say, “I am not a Rutgers student, but I take all of my classes at Rutgers,” something would sound off. By taking Rutgers classes at any of the three campuses, I am a Rutgers student. Because I fulfill the only criteria necessary to be a student at Rutgers, not identifying as one makes me sound ridiculous. The same goes for those who say, “I am not a feminist, but I believe women should have the same rights as men,” or something analogous. The criteria for being a feminist is fulfilled, yet the person chooses not to identify as one. For some reason, this is an overwhelmingly acceptable attitude. The whole idea strikes me as absurd.
The problem lies in the general attitude toward feminists, and in turn how feminism is perceived. For example, instead of defining a Rutgers student as one who attends Rutgers classes, I have defined the term as a person who attends Rutgers football games. Therefore, I am not a Rutgers student because I do not attend Rutgers football games. It is true that many Rutgers students attend the football games at the brand new stadium on Busch campus, and many Rutgers students also wear Rutgers attire. Though these characteristics describe Rutgers students, they are not conditions of being a Rutgers student. In the same way, certain characteristics that are ascribed to feminists do not make a person a feminist.
Case in point, on a Friday night in my apartment before going out, my female friend interjects that she would like to put on some make up before we left. A certain male friend gives her a funny look and says, “Why are you putting on make up? I thought you were a feminist.” And in the next thirty seconds he got schooled in how taking pride in your appearance as a woman does not contradict feminist values. In fact, feminists can take any number of shapes from women’s studies majors to housewives to even men. Because the “feminazi” stereotype first perpetuated by Rush Limbaugh has run rampant through the American vernacular, feminism is something to fear, like a militant state run by Hitler or “woman power” in the same way as the Neo-Nazi “White Power.” These associations retard the social progress necessary for women to finally achieve equal rights as men.
Though since the Woman’s Suffrage movement of the 1920s, America has come a far way in extending equal rights to women. However, if we concede this to be a victory and render feminism no longer necessary, we will lose far more in the long run. If women were equal to men in American society today, then women would be paid the same as men, women would not have to worry about sexual harassment, abuse or assault. Just readBen’s article from two weeks ago to see how these issues are handled at Rutgers. If we look around the world at these issues, we will see that of the 2.5 million people forced into labor, 43% are forced into commercial sexual exploitation. 98% of these people are women and girls.
We need to be feminists for these women. We need to stand up for women’s rights for all those who do not have the same fundamental rights as men. When we deny feminism and we are scared to identify as feminists, then we turn a blind eye to the women who are treated profoundly unequal to their male counterparts. Feminism is absolutely necessary in our culture today, if not to recognize that inequality both exists and abounds in our world. When we allow for the “Feminazi” stereotype to persist, we give a victory to those who want to oppress women or make us believe that these issues do not exist anymore. They clearly do. And for this reason, feminism should not be a dirty word. You are a feminist, and so am I.
Photo courtesy of novaseeker.wordpress.com